Newsletters and the Inbox as our News Feed

All of a sudden, it seems just about everyone is either a) starting a newsletter or b) bragging that they started a newsletter back in 2012. (“I sent one before it was cool.”)

The move towards email newsletters has been going on for a while. Not sure the initial trigger that kicked off the conversation this past week. In one corner, maybe it was the good Craig Mod post “Oh God, It’s Raining Newsletters”. It’s newsletters once more because email is an open system that no one owns, a do-what-you-will-with-it bit of freedom from the big tech giants. We’re “leaning on an open, beautifully staid, inert protocol. SMTP [is] our savior.”

Underneath the trend:

  • We’ve all been wanting away from the social platforms and the noise they bring: Email allows the writer to feel as if they’re writing in “Distraction-Free Mode”: they’re writing only for you. They don’t have to go into a platform to see everyone else’s thoughts before contributing their own. Curating links and writing thoughts takes time, and the writer better do a good job, lest they get unsubscribed. On the other side, when someone else reads it, their interface also is “Distraction-Free”: it only shows the writer’s note by itself, one-email-at-a-time — tap in to read it and swipe back to list;
  • We crave owning our data, not just content, but fans & followers as well – their emails, the ability to start a new conversation directly with them, leaving it to the individual to determine whether to respond, block or share you;
  • We want some sort of decentralization, whatever that means for who you are and what you care about: no middlemen taking a cut; no central authority in charge; no algorithms getting in the way and determining who and what gets seen; no bad actors getting between your content and your fans;
  • We crave direct access to numbers – engagement, opens, replies – not the algorithms and what the central players decide – but what end readers care about. The readers are the ones opening your emails and sharing them based on how good your writing is.

To me, none of this is any different than all of us slowly starting up (or restarting) our blogs again. It’s a way to get back to owning our own destinies once more: brand & design, domain names & URLs, followers & micro-communities.

With our social feeds being so polluted these days, combined with the fact that we no longer have easy ways to subscribe to specific people and feeds through well-designed feed readers, we have no place else to go. The inbox has become the feed reader by default, as it used to be before we had RSS, readers, social feeds and the like. We’ve gone full circle to where we started, and there are many things broken about it (e.g., discovery), but it’s a move towards something better.